Archive for March, 2022

Reading Ramblings – March 13, 2022

March 11, 2022

Date: Second Sunday in Lent ~ March 13, 2022

Texts: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

Context: As we give thanks for reconciliation to God the Father through faith wrought by God the Holy Spirit in the Son of God’s redemptive work, we must also recognize such reconciliation will put us at odds with the assumptions and practices of the world. Daring to take God at His Word will often produce mild or massive ripples which can upend plans, relationships, careers and lives. While this is not what we set out to accomplish we cannot predict how and where and when Satan may move against us through worldly philosophies, personages, and powers. This should not surprise us. We have been warned.

Jeremiah 26:8-15 – Jeremiah has the decidedly unpleasant duty of speaking truth to power – in this case power being not only the Judean monarchy but the hierarchy of the prophetic ministry, an institution intended to provide God’s Word and guidance to the king. The problem is they are not giving the king God’s Word, but rather providing words of their own. Words to comfort and assure and encourage. Jeremiah is placed by God the Holy Spirit in direct opposition to this, a position which elicits swift rebuke and the threat of execution. Jeremiah’s response to such threats is not to go back on the Word he proclaimed but rather to acknowledge both the truth of the words he has spoken as well as the power wielded by his adversaries to end his life. Death is better than unfaithfulness. The God who gives life is also capable of sustaining and protecting it but Jeremiah does not ground his steadfastness in any assurance he will be spared. They might kill him but it will not change the Word of God nor will it make his adversaries’ position with God any less dangerous. In fact it will place them under even more judgment! Jeremiah’s words are therefore not simply contentious but ultimately – as the Word of God – aimed at the conversion of the heart and repentance not simply a foreign policy change or a shift in domestic agendas.

Psalm 4 – Words perfectly appropriate to Jeremiah in his situation though penned long before he was born. How many of God’s faithful have taken refuge in this psalm, its words filling in for their gasps and cries and inarticulate pain? The speaker clearly recognizes the difference between the power of God and the transience of human power, even though human power can wreak incredible suffering within its allowed spans and spheres of influence. Does such suffering deny God’s existence? Hardly. Evil has been dealt with in the resurrection of the Son of God. Revealing the defeat of evil in tangible terms is at God’s discretion and timing. This is ultimately good, though we might wish his timing were closer to our own preferences. Yet we know that what God allows and the waiting He bids his faithful endure is ultimately to his glory and towards the salvation of as many as possible (2 Peter 3:9). We ourselves are undoubtedly beneficiaries of his gracious patience! This is to be our peace and solace in the midst of suffering rather than rejecting the reign and will of God to suit the passing whims of the world.

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – How much news have you watched in the last two weeks? How about the last two years? Where are your eyes, your ears, your thoughts, your fears? What are your hopes and aspirations for yourself and your loved ones? Safety? Security? Protection from the threats of the world – from pandemics and recessions and even nuclear war? Should our hopes and aspirations be limited to the perspectives of nightly newscasters and pundits and experts, whether in lab coats or three-piece suits? Or are we called to a greater hope? A hope that transcends the passing ups and downs of this world, even as we are caught up to some extent in those ups and downs? It isn’t that we don’t have better places to look and listen! How many have gone before us in our own lives? Faithful in the midst of wars, depressions and sickness? Do we prefer to look elsewhere to greater examples? More impressive? More impressive than what we are promised in and through and by Christ? More enduring? Think carefully about what and who you put into your ears and eyes.

Luke 13:31-35 – The last two years have been an incessant call to live in fear. To take the advice of this person or that agency. Good intentions have driven most of the world into a state of heightened fear and paranoia in the hopes that we might preserve our lives. It is not wrong to love our lives and seek to be wise in how we use them. After all, they aren’t ours – they are gifts of our Creator! Nor is it wrong to use the minds God has given us to understand his creation better and to wisely seek to utilize the blessings woven into it to heal and restore. But to live in fear day after day? As though the powers of this world microscopic or global have any real, lasting, permanent power? As though we are not heirs to an eternal kingdom? To eternal life – free from the ravages of either ‘blind’ circumstance or calculated cruelty? Lent calls us to remember that not even Satan and sin itself can keep us from who we are in Christ, and that while we must struggle against these very real and active enemies just as we struggle against the forces and powers of this world, the battle is already won. The victor declared. The enemy vanquished. We are privileged to live in this reality here and now, in the midst of a reality that transcends the reality those more powerful in the world would prefer us to think ourselves victims in.

Lenten Poetry

March 7, 2022

It may at first seem counterintuitive, that in the midst of Lent we could find and enjoy beauty. But contrition and repentance are not the same thing at all as boringness or repetition or monotony or ugliness. If anything, our Lenten contemplations should drive us in part by comparison – the aching awareness of our sinfulness against the panoramic beauty of creation. Our unfaithfulness in comparison to God the Father’s endless and bounteous and undeserved fidelity. We do not deserve anything, and we are given so much. So much that is good and beautiful.

And these days when beauty and good seem even more elusive, when war and rumors of war rattle our consciences and make our creaturely comforts somehow condemning in the face of others’ utter ruin, these days we need the beauty. Amidst the ashes of war. Amidst the ashes of Lent.

So read this. It’s short, but it will take some time to both understand all of it and resonate with it. I’ve mentioned Wendell Berry before, but this is a good reminder to me I need to find more of him. I need his beauty, that does not seek to cover over or temporarily displace the evil and hardness of the world and our lives, but points us to the greatest beauty yet to come, and which already spreads – if only palely – its glow on all beauty here and now as well as all ugliness.

Well You Can Just Rock Me to Sleep Tonight

March 4, 2022

And in case you’d like to stay awake a little longer tonight silently contemplating things you never thought about before as well, here’s this little article on whether or not Superman – were he real – should be baptized.

As the article indicates, the main factors the author uses to consider this are based in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, some 900 years later arguably still the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest theologian. I appreciate the attempt to provide a consistent, coherent answer to the question while addressing some very legitimate questions. The author isn’t the first to ponder this possibility, as I’ve noted before. I’d prefer to lose sleep if/when we actually discover alien life to which we might apply such questions as this (as opposed to microbes or other forms of life we deem baptism inappropriate for). But it’s nice to be reminded others are being more proactive in their theology.

Reading Ramblings – First Sunday in Lent

March 3, 2022

Date: First Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2022

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Context: Context is so important! Before we can realistically take inventory of our sinfulness and confess and more importantly repent to God, we need to see how far we are from who we should be. We must be reminded our sin is not just the occasional slip-up in language or thought or deed but a fundamental disjunct in who we are. Sin requires not just a few touch-ups here and there but a core-level refashioning. Only God can accomplish this and it begins in repentance. The readings emphasize the perfect relationship we were intended for with God, a relationship that constantly recognizes and depends upon God first and foremost as the provider of all things (Deuteronomy 26), as the protector from all evil (Psalm 91), as the source of all salvation (Romans 10) and as the only one capable of resisting the allure of evil (Luke 4). We are dependent upon God for our existence, our sustenance, and our salvation. In this context we see the gulf that separates who we are from who God created us to be, and our aching need for a Savior to rescue us.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – God does not need your money. His Church usually does, but God does not. Tithing is commanded not so God has what resources He needs – He is the Creator of all things! Rather tithing is a reminder to us of who we are and what we have, and to remember God the Father as the source of both our identity and whatever worldly goods we possess. This passage interests me in the ritual aspects. First the declaration to the priest – God has fulfilled his promises to me. He has given me what He promised to, and therefore I am not only able and willing but glad to bring him the firstfruits, evidence of His gracious provision! This continues further, though. I am just one in a long line of those whom God has created and watched over and blessed. My blessings are not an anomaly in the history of creation (even my particular familial line within it) but simply a continuation of God’s great goodness. This all culminates not in grumbling but in celebration. What a blessing, to be able to return a small portion of the vast blessing God has poured into our lives!

How ought this context change our hearts in tithing? How might the Church today better communicate this context properly to people? I remember being shocked when making a home visit to a housebound member one time. She liked to reminisce about when she joined the Lutheran church decades ago after marrying because her husband was part of the denomination. The minister explained tithing using the analogy of the dues you pay at a country club. Although the intention was good and it resulted in a lifetime of faithful and generous giving, I cringed to hear such an analogy! Tithing is a joy and privilege, and the amount given is a secondary matter to the celebration that should precede and infuse and follow the giving!

Psalm 91:1-13 – We sometimes lament Adam and Eve’s Fall as though it were inevitable, as though it was just a matter of time until Satan wore down their resistance and they ate the Forbidden Fruit (similar to how C.S. Lewis imagines temptation on an unfallen world in the second book of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra).

But is that a fair assessment? Did Adam and Eve not have at their disposal the protection of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had they only sought that protection rather than relying on their own reasoning (Genesis 3:6)? Both the psalm and the Gospel lesson show clearly temptation and evil can be resisted and protected against. Not perfectly now, not after the Fall disrupts things, of course. But the power and protection of God is something real to trust in and rely on not simply when all other resources are exhausted but as a primary and first line of defense. We must trust in God’s wisdom in the midst of our sinfulness and sinful creation, as clearly He does not always rescue those who place their trust in him from the devastation of personal sin or the sin of a fallen world (such as the terrible situation playing out in Ukraine at the moment). Yet his protection and promise do remain sure – whatever fate we may meet in this world can never separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18ff).

Romans 10:8b-13 – In the midst of Paul’s exploration of the role of the Jews as God’s chosen people he affirms once again the nature of salvation in Jesus Christ is a matter of confession, not of lineage or personal effort. This is part of the error of the Jews – seeking by their own efforts of piety and holiness to either ascend or descend as they imagine God wishes them to. Rather, they need only trust and confess not what they do but what God has done in Jesus Christ – sending him from heaven (descending) as well as raising him from the dead and back to heaven (ascending). Everything is accomplished in Christ! Our reconciliation and justification with God the Father is complete and finished. While our life of faith remains to be lived out in a life of ongoing sanctification, this is only possible because of the actions of the Triune God first as well as moment by moment on our behalf.

Luke 4:1-13 – Like Adam and Eve, Jesus can rely on the Word of God to refute the temptations of the devil. He does not need to evaluate Satan’s claims or assertions on their own merit, but rather trust completely that what God has said is always and perfectly true and right. Any suggestion to the contrary can therefore be immediately dismissed from consideration. I believe these were indeed real temptations to Jesus, who most likely knew what lay in store for him at the end of his earthly ministry. Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33 demonstrate the reality of these temptations, as well as the real possibility that Jesus – according to his human nature – could succumb to them. But He does not. He does what Adam and Eve did not – focus not on the suggestions of Satan but on the Word of God alone. Satan recognizes his defeat and chooses not to prolong the engagement but rather find another moment when Jesus might be weaker and more susceptible to his suggestions. Apparently 40 days of fasting in the desert is not enough to deplete Jesus’ strength to the point He would choose to forsake the Word of God for the lies of Satan!

Reading Ramblings – Ash Wednesday, 2022

March 2, 2022

Date: Ash Wednesday – March 2, 2022

Readings: Joel 2:12-19; Psalm 51:1-13(14-19); 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Context: The season of Lent begins, a season of repentance and remorse, self-examination and sincerity. This undertaking is not arbitrary. It functions within a larger context of the linear nature of history, a history extending from Creation, through the Fall, and to a Day of the Lord which will mean judgment as well as grace. Repentance is the acknowledgement that if not for God’s Son incarnating at a fixed point in our linear history, judgment would be our rightful due. But in Christ – and particularly his suffering and death – our sentence of death is laid upon him. So we examine and repent but not in uncertainty, but rather in the assurance that our faith in Christ and reliance on his perfection rather than our own is what makes all the difference in our linear history that ends with the Day of the Lord and continues beyond history into eternity. Such contemplation is indeed joyful, and therefore we should comport ourselves as those who are assured of forgiveness in Christ and already recipients of the mercy of God the Father.

Joel 2:12-19 – This is a powerful passage, often quoted only partially. Small wonder the latter verses would receive more attention, decidedly more positive and hopeful than the bulk of the early chapter. Yet God’s grace is only fully appreciated when one considers the alternative – the destructive judgment we are deserving of in our sinfulness and selfishness. Even our repentance is sullied with sin and self-preservation, incomplete at best. It is not the quality of our repentance but rather than magnanimous nature of God the Father that spares us. Our haphazard contrition is hardly admirable, but barely appropriate. The hero of this scene is not the repentant sinner but the merciful Creator who bestows on his creation his continued good gifts day after day – grain and wine and new oil, necessities for day to day life to be sure, but also representative of God’s Sacramental, saving gifts of bread and wine in Holy Eucharist and oil which anoints us as the Father’s wayward but reconciled children. Ponder the entire chapter. Judgment is coming. It will be truly horrendous – more horrendous than the most barbarous of human behavior because it is true and right and necessary and therefore holy. Against the backdrop of war this week in Ukraine, such verses take on a brutal reality. Our rationality has not overcome our sinful nature, and judgment is coming for those who flaunt the Lord’s wisdom in favor of their own.

Psalm 51:1-13(14-19) – The initial 13 verses are the frank personal inventory of a sinful person. His sin is only too obvious, too glaring to overlook or ignore. Yet the speaker is constantly hopeful. His sin can be washed away. His brokenness can be knit back together. His sin is ultimately first and foremost against God, and yet it is this God who can remove the stains of that sin eternally. What beautiful hope intertwined with such pained contrition and confession! The latter verses emphasize the sinner’s response to the grace and forgiveness of God. What a joy and privilege to declare not just God’s greatness but his goodness and mercy to others! In our culture burdened by hopelessness and despair in not measuring up against the laws of science and technology as well as influencers and celebrities, what a joy to be able to speak of peace, of joy, of assurance that we are infinitely valued! How incredible to assert that no less than the eternal, divine Son of God himself spilled his incarnate blood on our behalf! What greater worth could ever be bestowed upon us or earned by us?!

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 – Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is full of mixed emotions. Sharings of his sufferings, references to chastisement, calls to forgiveness and to acceptance of his ministry among them and since them. Here, he calls the Corinthians to reconciliation to God himself. This is a serious matter and Paul feels at least some of the church in Corinth is at risk from slipping away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ they first heard and received from Paul, back into unbelief and apostasy. Their repentance is to be real and true and present, not something of the past lightly held and so easily discarded. In order to make sure Paul is not an obstacle to this he has endured many things, suffered many things, surrendered many things. By the world’s standards he would amount to a failure, hardly the victorious, hardly the celebrity, hardly the success. But God’s standards are not the world’s. And in ways that are no doubt as baffling to Paul as to the Corinthians as to us, the very suffering and death of Christ ensure immeasurable victory and reconciliation to those who will receive it. It is possible to reject confession and the forgiveness that comes from it. To do so because of personal pride and worldly standards risks an eternal loss and infinitely greater riches.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – The sermon on the mount started in chapter 5 continues here. Jesus instructs his disciples on how they are to carry out their ministry and lives. They are to live in contrast to the ostensibly holy people of the day, eschewing their public hallmarks and to seek satisfaction not in praise received from others but in the peace and promise of God himself. What they do they are to do in joyful obedience to their heavenly Father. As He richly blesses them they are to be a blessing to others, seeking no other reward than the approval of their heavenly Father. Likewise when they engage in fasting they are not to be obvious about it, so that everyone might realize they are fasting and applaud their spirituality. Rather, they are to act as though they are not hungry, seeking not the praise of others but the blessings of the fasting itself in their spirits.

This may lead us to consider receiving the ashes of Ash Wednesday as somehow inappropriate. And perhaps it is. Certainly being outwardly in mourning is Biblical (consider the decrees of the King of Nineveh in the book of Jonah). But if the ashes become for us a source of pride, a means of judging those around us as either as spiritual or religious as ourselves, then we’d be better off skipping the imposition and doing a bit more meditation and prayer on the meaning and nature of repentance. The ashes are not a mark of pride in something we’ve done, like attend Ash Wednesday service. They are rather a reminder of who and what we are, regardless of how the world sees and judges us. We are sinners, and as such of our own merit we are headed towards the grave and dust and ashes, to be rightly forgotten. But by the grace of God the Father in Jesus Christ, who suffered in our behalf on the cross – the shape of the ashes on our forehead – our future is most assuredly different! Not because of our pious posturing or even our heartfelt regret, but entirely because of Jesus himself, and because of the faith instilled in us by God the Holy Spirit. There is no part to claim in all of this for ourselves. Only glory and honor to be given to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have accomplished our salvation against the raging and plotting of Satan and our own, blackened hearts!